Principal Investigator: Marit Westergaard (UiT/NTNU)

Participants: Merete Anderssen (UiT), Kristine Bentzen (UiT), Jorge González Alonso (UiT), Tanja Kupisch (Konstanz), Terje Lohndal (NTNU/UiT), Björn Lundquist (UiT), Natalia Mitrofanova (UiT), Tina Louise Ringstad (NTNU), Yulia Rodina (UiT), Jason Rothman (Reading/UiT), Irina Sekerina (CUNY), Roumyana Slabakova (Southampton), Bror-Magnus Sviland Strand (UiT), Olga Urek (UiT), Dianna Walla (UiT).

Funding: Research Council of Norway FriHUMSAM Researcher project (NOK 9 mill.), 2016-2020 (project code: 250857)

Project Output: Publications / Presentations

Brief project description: Children clearly learn language from the ambient input, but not from input alone. One of the main questions in theoretical linguistics and language acquisition is how much is provided by an innate endowment and how much must be learned from the primary linguistic data. The present project addresses this central issue within a new approach to language acquisition and attrition, the micro-cue model (MCM) that the PI has developed in a number of publications in recent years (e.g. Westergaard 2009a, 2014) based on data from monolingual acquisition. The MiMS project will extend this theoretical approach to multilingual situations, and new data will be collected from several populations of bi- and multilingual children and adults, e.g. German-Russian bilingual children, Norwegian-American heritage speakers, and bilingual children learning English as an L3. The focus is on (morpho-)syntactic micro-variation in Norwegian, Russian, German and English, related to word order and certain aspects of nominal structure (grammatical gender, determiner use). These languages and these syntactic constructions are chosen as they represent an interesting combination of challenges, both for children acquiring and adults maintaining these systems in multilingual contexts. According to the MCM, both acquisition and diachronic change take place in very small steps (e.g. Westergaard 2008, 2009d). By identifying the small steps in these processes (referred to as micro-cues), the project will increase our understanding of the human language faculty and the building blocks of language. It will also investigate the effect of more general factors such as complexity, frequency and economy in the acquisition and attrition processes. The MiMS project will thus make important contributions to current research in the fields of language acquisition, multilingualism and theoretical linguistics, providing new insights with potential to change the current dominance of the two opposing schools in the field, generativism and constructionism.

Full project description: (FriPRO2015-MW-MiMS2015)

Project Organization

WP1: Norwegian-Russian bilinguals                   Leader: Researcher Yulia Rodina
In addition to the dense corpus, WP1 will use the production experiments designed for the monolingual studies to investigate two word order phenomena in Norwegian-Russian bilinguals (V2, object shift/scrambling), as these are particularly interesting to compare in this language combination. For the gender study, WP1 will expand the experimental work used in Rodina & Westergaard (2013b, 2015) to include eyetracking, in order to investigate whether children who hardly ever produce a particular gender form, e.g. certain feminines in Norwegian or the opaque neuters in Russian, nevertheless are sensitive to these forms in processing. The monolingual Norwegian controls will be tested in Tromsø and the monolingual Russians in Ivanovo (as in our previous studies).

WP2: German-Russian bilingual children and adults                   Leader: Professor Tanja Kupisch
This subproject will be carried out in Hamburg. German-Russian children and monolingual German controls will be investigated using the same experiments as in WP1 on word order and grammatical gender. The monolingual Russian controls are thus the same as in WP1. The experiments will also be carried out on Russian adult heritage speakers.

WP3: Norwegian-English bilinguals                   Leader: Professor Merete Anderssen
In addition to the dense corpus of a Norwegian-English bilingual child, this subproject will use data from Norwegian-American heritage speakers collected for the NorAmDiaSyn project at the University of Oslo, making direct comparisons between acquisition and attrition data on grammatical gender and two word order phenomena (V2/inversion, S-Adv). The data from the bilingual child corpus will be compared to English corpora in CHILDES and recently collected Norwegian dense corpora, while the Norwegian-American adult data will be compared to Norwegian dialect data in the Nordic Dialect Corpus (Johannessen et al. 2009).

WP4: English as an L3                   Leader: Professor Marit Westergaard
This subproject will investigate the L3 English acquired by Norwegian-Slavic and German-Slavic bilinguals. The focus will be on two word order phenomena (V2/inversion, S-Adv), where English parallels Slavic in one case and Norwegian/German in the other, as well as on Determiner use, a notoriously difficult property for Slavic learners. The L2 controls will be investigated in Tromsø, Hamburg and Ivanovo. In addition to considering the size of rules in the process of language transfer (Hypothesis D), this project will challenge the three dominant models in the field. The project will also involve new and exciting theoretical work in collaboration with Roumyana Slabakova, who has recently proposed the Scalpel Model (Slabakova 2015), an independently developed approach to L3 acquisition that is built on similar theoretical foundation as the Linguistic Proximity Model (Mykhaylyk, Mitrofanova, Rodina & Westergaard 2015, in progress).

Work package


Research focus




Norwegian- Russian bilinguals

Dense corpus, Experiments (production, eyetracking)

Grammatical gender Word order: V2, object shift/scrambling

1 bilingual (age 2;0-3;0), 25 bilinguals (age 4-6), 25 Norwegian & 25 Russian controls

Post-doc I, Rodina, Rothman, Sekerina, Westergaard


German- Russian bilinguals

Experiments (production, eyetracking)

Same as WP1

25 bilinguals (age 4-6), 25 German controls

Post-doc I, Kupisch, Westergaard, Rodina, Sekerina


Norwegian- English bilinguals

Dense corpus, NorAmDiaSyn corpus

Grammatical gender Word order: V2/inver- sion, S-Adv

1 bilingual (age 2:0-3:0) & previously collected corpora

Post-doc II, Rothman, Anderssen, Lohndal, Bentzen, Westergaard


English as an L3

Experiments (grammaticality judgements, production)

Word order: V2/inver- sion, S-Adv
Nominal structure: Determiner use

25 Norwegian-Russian & 25 German-Russian bilinguals, 50 L2 (25 L1 Norwegian, 25 L1 German, age 10-12)

Post-docs I/II, Westergaard, Rothman, Rodina, Anderssen, Kupisch, Slabakova, Sekerina

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